Casual Friday

A disclaimer before I even get started on this post.

Some of you who know me or work with me will think that by writing this post I am talking about you or even attacking you. I am not. If you’re especially sensitive, don’t read any further.

I am simply writing something that has been kicking around in my head for a long time. Feelings that I have about a concept.

A concept called Casual Friday.

It is fairly common nowadays in companies and facilities and services of all sizes and types to allow employees to wear more casual clothing to work on Fridays. The thinking is, of course, that it’s close to the weekend, things are winding down, people are starting to  loosen up a bit, and that consumers and customers and patients won’t really care one way or the other.

I disagree.

Why?

There are several reasons.

One is that one of my major male role models in life growing up, my father, was a manager for a large textile company for most of his working life. I remember Dad wearing pressed, short-sleeved white shirts, a tie, dress slacks, and business-dressy belt, socks and shoes every time he would go to work. Including Fridays. Sometimes on Saturdays. Maybe Sundays after church if something needed checking on. My memory may have dimmed through the years (Mom, maybe if you read this you can provide a reality check for me on this point), but I never remember him going to the plant in a polo shirt or jeans or anything less than his professional “uniform”.

My Dad impressed me, and impressed his work ethic upon me, because he always cared very much about how he presented himself, how he interacted with his people on the floors of the plant, and how he was a role model for the kind of dedication and hard work he expected from all his subordinate employees.

As I grew and went to school and eventually found myself in a medical school environment, it was impressed upon my very early on that one should present oneself as a doctor at all times, not just when on duty, but at the grocery store, in church, and at the football game on Friday night. Part of this was, of course, how one dressed. Somehow, and I’ve written about this before, people can tell that you’re a doctor without your saying a word. I’m still not sure exactly how that happens, but I know that clothing, in certain situations, quietly proclaims professionalism-or not. It’s part of the package, the persona, the training, the projection of who the professional is. It’s the way doctors of my generation were trained.

Also, we were trained very explicitly to observe every little thing about the patient we were bringing back to our consulting room, including their hygiene, gait, clothing, makeup, hairstyle, arm swing, and level of alertness. Would it not be very naive indeed to think that patients would not be checking us out as well? First impressions are huge, especially when you are entering in to a relationship with someone who is going to be asked to tell you about everything from their drinking to their sexual abuse history to their suicide attempts.

Now, fast forward to the present. I see patients every day of the week, including Fridays in the clinics and now via telepsychiatry on some Saturdays and Sundays. Again, it may just be the way I was brought up, but I feel that every patient, no matter which day they are scheduled or how late in the day or the week it is, deserves the same attention to detail, professionalism and interaction that every other patient gets. I had fourteen patients scheduled in the clinic today, a Friday. Are they any less important to me just because I see them just before I am getting off for a weekend out of town? Of course not. Do they deserve the same presentation and professionalism from me that the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday patients get? In my opinion, yes.

That being said, I do not feel comfortable wearing jeans or polo shirts or flannel to see these folks just because it’s Friday. Sure, I would be more relaxed and probably be more easy going, but is that the way I’m supposed to be on Friday visits with a suicidal sixteen year old or a defiant five year old and his distraught parent?

i have noticed over these last few years that when I dress professionally for the day, just as when I now wear a close-cropped beard that is more white than it used to be, that I get a lot more “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs” than I used to. A function of age and seniority? Sure. Clothing? Probably? Demeanor and confidence? Absolutely. It’s a package deal, remember?

When one does a telepsychiatry consult, all the folks on the other end of the camera see is you from the waist up, or more if you pull the camera angle back some. You could certainly were jeans or even shorts and flip flops for all that matters. Do I do that? No. Why?

Because the other part of all this for me is that when I am dressed for work, I am thinking work-related thoughts. When I am dressed in casual clothing, I’m ready to head for the beach or the football game or dinner with my relatives. It just goes together for me. Again, I think this is due to upbringing, role models, intensive training, and personal choice as my career has evolved. I have a standard uniform now, I’m comfortable in it, and when I have it on I know it’s time to see patients or run meetings or do supervision or write prescriptions or type progress notes. Anything less and I just don’t feel like the doctor is in.

So, Casual Friday will most likely still be around for some time in some fashion in many of the places that we frequent.

Just don’t expect that if you come see me on Friday that I will look much different than I would look if you came to see me on Tuesday.

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9 thoughts on “Casual Friday

  1. I very much agree with you. I work at home and accomplish much more (proper mindset) when I wear work clothes to my office, 10 feet from my bedroom. I’ve worked in countries where everyone from students to company employees wear a uniform, and they do have a mindset toward whom they represent when they wear it. My daughter has a sensory disorder, and wearing a uniform every day allows her to calm down and learn instead of work herself into a fit of anxiety about an unfamiliar Sean or sock. For some people, in some places, this concept of the uniform is meaningful and magical. Thanks for bringing this up.

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  2. It is probably a generational, east coast/westcoast thing – most of us who work in technology and healthcare look at the work someone does not what they wear and I would suggest that you have a clothing related trigger more than your patients do?

    If you feel more professional wearing your uniform tada guess what happens so for you it is probably important but it also might create artificial barriers between you and your clients as well that are as much to protect you as to create a safe place for them.

    For those of us in primary care on the west coast very few dress “formally” and we know that it is important for our patients to feel like they are part of the team so most people tend to try to match the clients we serve. If I am in a suburban clinic vs an inner city mental health facility I dress different.

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  3. J

    That makes sense too, of course. Truth be told, I’m a little different from board meeting to staff meeting to more rural clinic.

    Thanks for reading and for your comment!

    G

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  4. And doesn’t the old chestnut go, “Clothes make the man” ? I live in a small town, surrounded by other, smaller towns, and at the ripe old age of 67 I could literally attend one (or more) funeral per week. Judging from the outfits I’ve seen in many a casket, it seems Dress Down Day has somehow extended from once per week to eternity. By now, St. Peter undoubtedly as a great collection of baseball caps. PS–Welcome back, Doc!

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  5. Agree with you 100%. Manner of dress conveys a strong unspoken message. When I worked as a civilian secretary at an air force headquarters back in the ’80s, I took a cue from a popular book, “Dress for Success” that was popular at the time. I got a smart haircut that met the uniform regulations and ditched dresses in favor of tailored suits. This resulted in instant respect from new contacts, “yes Ma’ams,” and gradually even longtime co-workers changed the tone of their interactions. I was given more responsibility, taken more seriously, and I may be the only GS-5 to have briefed a one-star general on the status of a command-wide problem-solving initiative. And the only thing that changed was my appearance.

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  6. I live in Silicon Valley. I believe the whole casual Friday thing started at Hewlett Packard. They used to have “beer busts” about once a month on Fridays in the summer, and so people wore their picnic clothes. (I worked at HP Labs in the same building where Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett had their original offices.) IMO the whole “casual vibe” here is too much. My kids are in college now, but at the public high school, I would see girls arriving at school with pajama bottoms, slippers and “bed head.” Ugh.

    So many kids were allowed to get tattoos and unusual piercings (not on the ear lobe). I told my kids if they got a tattoo or weird piercing that we wouldn’t be paying for college. They know I mean it, and so far so good.

    I’m glad you dress professionally.

    Jen in San Jose

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  7. While I’m not in the medical field, I do have experience with the vagaries of generational and regional clothing differences. Moving from California to Virginia was quite a culture shock. I admit I loved wearing flip-flops and shorts to the office in San Diego. Now I wear more skirts or dark pants, then go home to relax into jeans.

    My question to you is this: which is more important, your sense of appropriateness or what makes your patients most comfortable? As a Gen Xer in my 40s I would feel awkward facing an elder in a suit, particularly in as revealing a profession as psychiatry. My sons’ (ages 11 & 13) pediatrician wears jeans, cool t-shirts, and has tattoos on his arms. I’m not into body art myself, but my boys love him. And isn’t that what’s important?

    Quick story: As a young woman in the late 80s I worked as a summer intern at the pentagon. My boss was a Navy Commander, and unlike most of his peers, he preferred to be called by his first name, “Hank”. I once asked him about it. He replied, “If I need a title to feel like I have authority, I have no authority.” Perhaps clothes don’t make the man, the man makes the man.

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  8. Rev

    I agree.

    I think I’ve split the difference in a way as I’ve gotten older.

    I wear jackets and slacks, but no ties (or very rarely anyway).

    I do want my patients to feel comfortable seeing me, and it’s definitely important to me that they know me as opposed to my image.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment.

    Greg

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  9. I absolutely agree with this. Casual Fridays seem more appropriate for jobs that don’t require any more than already casual attire for their employees. I have always learned in my career based classes that how you present yourself, including what you are wearing, is extremely important. Though I am sure that patients know it’s Friday and can very well be as happy as their doctor is about it being the weekend, they are still at an appointment and they are in that very specific state of mind. The more their doctor, cashier, or waiter looks like an employee, the more they will trust him/her.

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